Tax Prep Search Tool

Feb 17, 2015 by

Don’t know where to start in choosing a tax preparer? Your friendly neighborhood IRS has a search tool to give you a little help.

tax preparer credentials

The IRS tool lets you easily find tax preparers with certain credentials in your area. You may search based one or more of the six credentials shown in the image to the let. Note that you can check more than one box, and you don’t have to check any boxes!


IRS’ Tax Preparer Credentials

You probably recognize the Attorney and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credentials. But what about the other four, less recognizable, credentials? Here are the credential descriptions, direct from the IRA:

Enrolled Agent

“Enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS. They are subject to a suitability check and must pass a three-part Special Enrollment Examination, which is a comprehensive exam that requires them to demonstrate proficiency in federal tax planning, individual and business tax return preparation, and representation. They must complete 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years.

Enrolled agents may generally represent any taxpayer regarding any tax matter before any IRS office, also known as unlimited practice rights.”

Enrolled Actuary

“Enrolled actuaries have satisfied the standards and qualifications as set forth in the regulations of the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries and have been approved by the Joint Board to perform actuarial services required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).”

Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent

“Enrolled retirement plan agents (ERPAs) are licensed by the IRS and specifically trained in certain retirement plan matters. ERPAs are subject to a suitability check and must pass a two-part ERPA Special Enrollment Examination. They complete 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years.

ERPAs may represent clients before the IRS on certain retirement plan matters.”

Annual Filing Season Program Participant

“This new voluntary program recognizes the efforts of return preparers who are generally not attorneys, certified public accountants, or enrolled agents. The IRS issues an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion to return preparers who obtain a certain number of continuing education hours in preparation for a specific tax year.

Annual filing season program participants do not have unlimited practice rights (unless they are also an attorney, certified public accountant, or enrolled agent). Their representation rights are limited to clients whose returns they prepared and signed, but only before revenue agents, customer service representatives, and similar IRS employees, including the Taxpayer Advocate Service. They cannot represent clients whose returns they did not prepare, nor can they represent clients regarding collection or appeals matters.”

A set of IRS webpages will help you choose what kind of tax preparer you need.

IRS Tax Preparer Search Tool Example

I gave the search tool a test run.

tax preparer search tool results

Using a Saint Paul, Minnesota ZIP code (55106), I first searched for preparers with both Enrolled Agent and Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent credentials. That is, I thought I was searching for preparers with both credentials. I got 120 results, and learned something important: When you check more than one credential, the results include preparers with either credential, not both credentials. Seems to me it should work the other way around, but what do I know. I figured this out because checking just Enrolled Agent gave me the same 120 results while checking just Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent yielded zero results.

This caused me to wonder whether Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents are rarer than a Congressperson who does his or her own taxes. So I expanded the search distance to 50 miles, which would include pretty much all of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, population ~3 million. I got 14 results for Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent, so evidently these people do exist.

Lots of Tax Preparer Results

Searching for Enrolled Agents or Annual Filing Season Program Participants within 10 miles of ZIP 55106 yielded 219 results. Searching for a CPA in the same are gave me 468 results.

If you live in a good-sized city or metro area, with the screening criteria the IRS has provided, you probably can’t use this tool to start from scratch and zero in on tax preparer candidates. There are just too many to choose from. You could use the tool to check whether a specific tax preparer you’re considering has one or more of the credentials (notice the “Last name” box).

If you live in a rural area or small town, you could use the search tool for a start-from-scratch search. I searched for Enrolled Agents in a small-town, southern Illinois ZIP I once called home (62901). I got just three results:

62901 Enrolled Agent tax preparers

In this case, the IRS tool gives you a great starting point. (Makanda–that brings back some memories!)

Have fun!

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